(MintPress) – U.S. negotiators have entered the 16th round of talks for the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Singapore this week in what could be the final round of talks before the massive, multinational free trade agreement is signed and officially implemented — allowing 11 countries, including the United States, to trade without barriers.
Four hundred organizations are urging the U.S. Congress to demand greater transparency in the proceedings. Little is known about the closed-door negotiations that bring together 600 leaders of multinational corporations for talks relating to production, trade and intellectual property. The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) resulted in a net loss of nearly 700,000 jobs and a decline in real wages for thousands of other workers. If passed, the TPP could result in a much larger vacuum when U.S. jobs are sent to low-wage production facilities abroad.
Free trade comes with high costs
If implemented, the agreement would expand the existing 2005 Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPSEP) considerably. The TPSEP is a free trade agreement among Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore.
The proposed expansion would bring Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam into one of the largest trade pacts, allowing the 11 countries to freely trade goods and services. Japan has expressed interest in possibly joining but has yet to enter into any formal negotiations.
The Obama administration has said that the new TPP could be expanded considerably in the future leaving open the possibility for new member states.
Many neoliberal economists praise free trade as a measure that is beneficial to both consumers and manufacturers. By lowering trade barriers, consumers can enjoy more products at lower prices.
The problem is that with fewer restrictions, wages decrease and national laws regulating environmental protections and workplace safety are undermined by overarching transnational agreements.
Civil society organizations claim that the agreement gives multinational corporations too much say in matters of trade, limiting the voices of citizens and eroding the rule of national laws that regulate environmental protections. Four hundred organizations opposed to the TPP are urging the U.S. Congress to demand greater transparency in the negotiations.
The Citizens Trade Campaign, an organization advocating for social and environmental justice in trade policy, is among the 400 groups opposed to the TPP, writing, “TPP going beyond this ‘state to state’ dispute resolution, by inviting individual corporations to initiate ‘regulatory takings’ cases heard by private panels of attorneys specializing in international trade.”
According to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), a humanitarian group known as “Doctors Without Borders,” the agreement would be disastrous for the delivery of medicine and health services to the developing world.
MSF writes that the TPP would “enhance patent and data protections for pharmaceutical companies, dismantle public health safeguards enshrined in international law and obstruct price-lowering generic competition for medicines.”
The result could be restrictions on access to affordable generic medicines for “millions” of people.
Civil society organizations representing unions and fair trade groups are urging the Obama administration to cease the proliferation of free trade pacts that result in lost jobs and lower wages for American workers.
Learning from NAFTA
“There’s a real reason why the draft has been kept secret from the U.S. public – Americans wouldn’t support a huge amount of the agenda that the [Obama administration] has been pushing,” Citizens Trade’s Stamoulis says.
States once offering good paying manufacturing jobs have seen thousands of jobs sent abroad since NAFTA, allowing manufacturers to use low-wage laborers as a means to lower costs.
The Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition, a group advocating for workers’ rights, cites U.S. Labor Department statistics showing that 2,525 Minnesota jobs were destroyed by either direct offshoring or displacement by imports in 2012, a full 21 percent higher than the average number of jobs offshored from the state in any given year since NAFTA took effect in 1994.
The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reports that, nationwide, 682,900 U.S. jobs were lost as a result of NAFTA. Despite the agreement being considered a major boost for Mexico, the country’s economy grew only 1.6 percent per capita on average between 1992 and 2007.